The European Commission has approved France’s new action plan against nitrate pollution. But there is no guarantee it will improve the quality of surface or groundwater. EURACTIV’s partner Journal de l’Environnement reports.
“After two years of meetings with representatives of the Commission and professional organisations, we have agreed on a new action plan, which will be validated by Brussels this week. But the disagreement will not be officially resolved for several weeks, or even months,” Brice Huet, the sustainable development advisor to France’s Minister for Agriculture Stéphane Le Foll, told the Journal de l’Environnement.
Convicted by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) on 4 September 2014, after a warning in October 2011, the French government took five years to improve its measures to protect water from pollution by agricultural nitrates. At least on paper.
The case against France was clear: the periods during which spraying is banned were judged too short or non-existent for the big autumn crops, for meadows planted over six months previously and for frozen or snow-covered land. Neither was the limit of 170kg of nitrogen fertiliser per hectare enforced in France.
Response to the CJEU
The updated text on nitrates in vulnerable areas, which was put to a consultation in April this year, addresses the EU’s criticisms to the letter. To avoid a fine of €20 million, it banned any spreading of nitrates on frozen or snow-covered ground, as well as on steep slopes, within 100 metres of a water course.
But there is no guarantee that concentrations of nitrates in surface water or the water table will actually be reduced by these measures.
“These measures show good intentions, but the effects will be limited at best. How can we be sure that farmers will change their practices when they are under such high economic pressure, especially with the global grain price as it is? It’s the agricultural model itself that should be revised to benefit smaller businesses that use less, or no nitrates, and that form part of short agricultural chains,” said Bernard Rousseau, the head of water policy at NGO France Nature Environnement.